The Stuff is all the rage and people can’t seem to get enough lol, in a dusty, hazy old Larry Cohen flick that Shudder has salvaged for a VHS quality transfer. This is a great little schlock flick as long as you ignore the sheer, hilarious lack of a proper beginning or ending, seriously this thing just… starts without any sort of introduction and then when it’s had it’s fun it just… ends, quite unceremoniously as if there were multiple reels missing from the original print. What’s in between is top shelf schlock with bizarrely earnest performances from a terrific cast and some gloriously gooey, visually stimulating practical effects. Hollywood character actor royalty and Cohen regular Michael Moriarty plays some kind of corporate investigator who is mighty suspicious of The Stuff.. what is ‘The Stuff’, exactly? It’s a sentient, gelatinous white goo that literally bubbles up from crevices beneath the earth and has now been patented by a food processing conglomerate and marketed as a tasty ice cream style dessert, to massive popularity and demand from the public. Only problem is, this stuff has a malicious agenda and not only inspires dangerous cravings and maniacal addiction in its indulgers, it takes over their minds and even physically attacks them. As in all Cohen flicks there is deft social satire woven in amongst the slime and there’s something in here about mad consumerism and the unchecked corporate greed that fuels it, brought to deadpan life by some truly great actors having a blast of hammy fun. Moriarty is always on his A game and rocks it here, with a crisp suit and cowboy boots as oiled up as his attitude, while we are treated to great supporting work from Paul Sorvino as an impossibly patriotic army colonel and the late great Danny Aiello as a smarmy company man who gets his just desserts. There’s a genuinely creepy sequence where a young boy’s entire family, now mentally enslaved by The Stuff, cajoles and coerces him into eating it, it’s a terrifically suspenseful midsection interlude that’s most effective in raising tension. My favourite aspect of the film are the effects used for The Stuff, which are brilliantly tactile, wonderfully animate and really do feel like a disgusting 7-11 dessert full of horrible ingredients that has somehow come to life, like they melted down the Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters and the remaining ectoplasmic goo started running about the place Terminator 2 style. I don’t know if a Blu Ray or even DVD transfer exists for this but the version Shudder has gotten it’s hands on is so shockingly low quality it’s tough to understand everything that’s happening onscreen but on the other hand it adds atmosphere and ‘lo-fi VHS’ vibes that are appropriate considering the tone of the film. Good Stuff.
Psycho Goreman is a hell of a title for a film and anyone one that dares use must ensure their art lives up to it, and this one sure as hell does. It’s one of those deft, near miraculous efforts that dances an impossible yet flawless ballet between genres of horror, SciFi and comedy and almost fuses them all together for something entirely new. The titular Psycho Goreman is a hulking alien warlord with a penchant for violence, torture and all sorts of melodramatic menace, who arrives on earth only to be outwitted by a incredibly feisty ten year old girl (Nita Josee-Hanna) who snags the magic gemstone that controls him and now calls the shots. There is an entire galactic Narmada of silly funny weird creatures who are trying to track and destroy him though and they eventually follow him to earth for all out warfare. The terrific thing about this film is how deftly it balanced extremely graphic, hard-R gore with a genuine childlike sensibility and the kind of dark, deadpan humour that is so funny and so pointed that I just can’t even describe it in a review, you have to see the thing to get it. It’s sweet yet still has a jaggedly nihilistic tonal edge, hilarious yet feels truly gnarly and almost… ‘Troma’ in its levels of schlock and splatter and just the perfect mix of everything fun. Director Steven Kostanski also made the brilliant 2017 cosmic horror The Void, which is in my top ever made in the genre and I always wondered what he’d follow it up with. A true winner that blazes new trails and shows his devotion, invocation and passion for practical effects based horror. The costumes, makeup and gore effects are pure bliss here, with every extraterrestrial creature owning their own distinct, hilarious and lovingly campy anatomical design, the gore is unapologetically ruthless, bathed in buckets of blood n’ body parts and the the script laced with indescribably hysterical wit, comedic inspiration and overall horror nirvana. Wonderful film.
Adam Wingard has become something of a household name lately, blasting on scene with his vicious shocker You’re Next, thrilling audiences with his retro cult specimen The Guest and solidifying his presence as a filmmaker to be reckoned with by scoring the reins to Godzilla Vs. Kong, the dude is a top dog who is here to stay. Many aren’t aware of his debut film though, and fair enough because it’s about as low budget, under the radar and avant-garde as horror can be but it’s so, so worth watching to triangulate the evolution of a fascinating artist from the murkiest pits of lo-fi, Grindhouse schlock to the loftiest echelons of Hollywood high gloss. It’s called Home Sick, he made it on a shoestring budget back in the mid 2000’s and it’s an absolutely diabolical treat, but only if you can stomach some truly jarring moments of gore and have one demented sense of humour with the capacity for.. let’s just say… abstract thought. Low budget, practical effects driven schlockers like these are a dime a dozen, but this one is worth it’s weight in gold simply for going that extra mile to make it memorable and stand out from the cheaply drawn masses. It starts out slow, with an eerie opening credit musical jingle and animated sequence that could suggest all kinds of horrors to come. We meet a group of friends in the Deep South going through the motions of partying and quarreling. Tiffany Shepis does a wonderfully nutty little riff on her scream queen shtick who likes to rail cocaine at her graveyard janitor job and swing a mop around with gale force. Anywho, this weird little troupe is kicking back one night, when into the apartment walks a very ill adjusted stranger named Mr. Suitcase (the legendary Bill Moseley), and sits down on the couch like he owns the place. He’s chipper, charming and affable to a terrifying level, as he opens up his suitcase full of razor blades that he calls “gifts”. He asks them all to pick one person in their life they hate and want to wish dead, slicing a nasty gash on his forearm for each answer. The hilarious lot deadpan member of the group (Forrest Pitts, in a priceless performance of comedic eccentricities) foolishly blurts out that he wishes everyone in the room dead, and then the real fun begins. A giant masked killer begins stalking and killing pretty much every character around in ways so brutal your balls will shrink into your pancreas. Seriously, it’s like they sat down in a boardroom and systematically came up with every squirm inducing way to inflict violence on a human body, and gave their results to the storyboard artist and effects team. It all comes to a chaotic, deranged finale when they take refuge with Uncle Johnnie (the late great Tom Towles, always brilliant) a gun toting chili enthusiast. That’s where the film comes off the rails, but it’s seemingly deliberate and actually quite hilarious, as everyone pretty much goes certifiably bananas and loses the plot all at once like feral kindergarten class in overdrive. There’s some thought and care put into the writing, and as such the characters, however odd or over the top, seem like real people, albeit some strange and undesirable folks. The film oozes unsettling atmosphere right from the get-go, fervent in its aggressively weird sense of style and never taking the conventional route that most horrors end up with. Like I said, if your sense of humour has an affinity for the bizarre, demented and off the wall (think David Lynch meets Tim & Eric meets The Evil Dead meets John Waters), you’re gonna love this little gem. On top of being a laugh riot, it’s just freaky enough to earn it’s horror classification, something which many films in the genre just can’t claim. As to why it’s called HomeSick, though? Couldn’t tell you, and there’s no reference to it the entire time. Perhaps it’s called that for the folks that will be thoroughly repelled and repulsed, those who watch it expecting a run of the mill, cookie cutter slasher and feel uncomfortable with the oddness, getting “home sick” for their safer horror fare. As for me, I’m right at home up the weird end of the alley, and love this type of thing and it’s one hell of a fascinating debut for any director to start out with.
They don’t make em like this anymore, and that goes for both the protagonists of Joe Begos’s VFW and the film itself. Coated in 16mm grain, dripping with gorgeous, driving 80’s style synth music and packed wall to wall with excessively gory, blood soaked extreme violence, this film feels like the old school right to the bone. Set in a particularly nasty urban hell where the opioid crisis has reached a breaking point, a group of tough, battle hardened Nam and Korea veterans fight til the death to protect their local VFW hall and drinking spot from a gang of evil marauding drug psychos out to get their stolen product back. It’s a barebones siege thriller infused with schlock from one angle but there’s a deeper level, care and attention paid to each of these characters, wonderful dialogue that has the scent of improvisation and super game performances from these familiar faces of the VHS golden age of genre filmmaking. Stephen Lang (Tombstone, The Hard Way, Manhunter) heads up the pack as ringleader and Fred is joined by beloved familiar faces including blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson (From Dusk Till Dawn, MASH, Vigilante), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid, Rambo II, Death Race 2000), George Wendt (Fletch, House, Space Truckers), William Sadler (Die Hard 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Shawshank Redemption) and David Patrick Kelly (Twin Peaks, 48 Hrs, The Crow). These guys are totems of a bygone era in terms of themselves and the characters they get to play. They all got their start in the industry back around the 70’s and 80’ when the age of VHS was just getting underway, and as such represent a time when you’d walk into a video store and see the horror/action sections adorned with countless titles just like this one. In the film itself they play these veterans with a strong sense of brotherhood, camaraderie and community, the kind I imagine you could only get from serving together or simply knowing what it’s like to be in the shit. The film shows a reverence for these old dudes as they fiercely rage against the dying of the light and lament a large portion of the younger generation lost to drugs. It’s also just a kickass fucking horror fest with retro sensibilities, a Wild Bunch meets John Carpenter with a dash of Panos Cosmatos kinda vibe. My favourite film so far this year and highly recommended, provided this aesthetic is your thing.
It’s time for some schlocky 80’s biker trash. Savage Dawn is a cheap, sleazy, exceedingly noisy, obnoxious piece of dustbowl highway exploitation and I love every minute of it. Lance Henriksen is stoic ex green beret Stryker who drifts past a small town to visit his old army buddy (George Kennedy). Also blowing through the area is a pack of evil, vicious bikers led by sadistic Pigiron (William Forsythe, living up to that name and then some). Stryker just wants to chill out and have beers with his ol’ bud but Pigiron & Co. have other plans and the film is basically a loose, untethered series of ultra-violent run-ins with the gang, while other weirdo backwoods locals run in and out of the scenes all silly billy. Henriksen is the only actor here to play it remotely seriously, keeping that stone faced glare stolidly in place and dishing out beatdowns left and right. Forsythe is downright maniacal here, doing one of the best versions of his ‘psycho snarling hick shtick’ and chewing scenery like an evil tornado of redneck rambunctiousness. This was the first time these two tussled in a biker picture and would reunite again for Stone Cold in the 90’s, but that’s another story. The late Richard Lynch shows up as a feeble, horn-dog local preacher who gets in the way and the great Karen Black has a memorable turn as the loopy local slut. This ain’t nothing but bottom of the barrel street grease, there’s no way around it. But the actors sell it and there’s enough of them letting off steam to make this enjoyable, albeit fairly WTF in places. Gotta keep in mind that gnarly little nuggets like this were commonplace back then and sometimes I miss em.
Stuart Gordon’s ReAnimator is a healthy dose of schlocktastic fun, taking a page out of the silly splatter book of Sam Raimi, and although not quite as fun as some of the stuff it draws inspiration from, it does the trick. I know this film has a massive cult fanbase and while I can’t say that I loved it quite as much as some no doubt do, I always have some love for gory practical effects, and the ones on display here are pretty impressive. Jeffrey Combs is funny (if not exactly the definition of subtle throughout his whole career) as Dr. Herbert West, a loony fuckin quack who has stumbled upon an ectoplasmic looking serum that brings dead corpses back to life, albeit with a side of extreme retardation. Things go riotously awry when a jealous rival (David Gale) literally loses his head and steals it, prompting a gruesome comedy of errors in which heads, limbs, blood and entrails are hurled about the screen in a feverish celebration of all things gory and grisly. You can’t exactly call them zombies, I mean I suppose they are but they’re given a modicum more sentience than your average shambling Romero flesh-eater, but the actors get to have fun with their zany side, as the formula sort of plays havoc with their cognitive functions, a hilarious touch. There’s a sexually icky part that was even a bit in bad taste for my lax sensibilities (poor Barbara Crampton is a trooper and better have gotten paid hefty fucking overtime), but I suppose that trash is sort of the name of the game here. The 80’s was a very formative decade for the horror genre, and its fascinating to see how not only was this inspired by earlier stuff like Raimi, but would itself go on to rouse other filmmakers and give them ideas, as Hollywood progresses in symbiosis. A fun, freaky time.
It’s ironic that Tom Sizemore starred in a B flick called Bottom Feeder, because he’s been called worse by many in Hollywood. Jokes aside I love the guy, he’s up there with my favourite actors and I’ve had to reconcile his behaviour next to my admiration for years. It’s also no secret that he’s made some piss poor cash grab films, like this one, which lives up to it’s name. Sizemore is clearly emerging from the hazy doldrums of rehab here (the timelines check out), and as such is more subdued than his trademark zany, jumping bean persona. That and he probably had zero interest in putting an effort into material this low brow and schlocky. He plays the head of a maintenance crew here who are dispatched into the catacombs of a city sewer system. Coincidentally, it’s also the home of a maniac scientist who shoots himself up with a weird genetic serum, feeds on a live rat and turns into a giant gooey rat/hooman hybrid that immediately starts hunting people down there. Sizemore’s team has all kinds of theories that reach conspiracy level but at it’s core this is just a standard made for SyFy channel mess, and if it weren’t for his name above the billing, it wouldn’t have even blipped on anyone’s radar, especially mine. The monster looks like a weird ramshackle cross between the thing in Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift and the gross giant rat that Tom Savini becomes in From Dusk Till Dawn, except way less cool than both of those beasties. This is a bottom feeder flick, derivative of basically everything in other better horror flicks and bereft of any of its own originality. Hard pass.
There’s always those B Movies that seemed to be sewn together out of bits of other scripts and produced solely so SyFy or Space has something, anything to fill up their 3am Saturday time slot. It’s like production team grabbed discarded narratives from all kinds of genre flicks, shoved them in a magic bullet, but purée and served up whatever the result is to the distributor. Now, this can often be a terrible idea resulting in boring mish-mash horror flicks that make little sense, or they can oddly kind of work in their own absurd way. Necessary Evil… kind of works, kind of doesn’t, there’s definitely something splattered on the canvas with it’s narrative, what it is though, I’m not even sure the filmmakers had an idea. It’s part Lovecraftian horror, part psychological something, part social satire and all schlock, but these themes bleed into each other until even the most attentive viewer will have not much of a clue what they’re watching. Best I can describe it: a super sinister doctor named Fibrian (Lance Henriksen) runs a shadowy psychiatric ward. There’s all kinds of rumours about illegal testing, dodgy pharmaceuticals, mass mind control and occult ties, none of which is ever made clear or disproved. However, when you have Lance playing your asylum director, you can almost be sure the place is up to something it shouldn’t be, he just has that cavalier maliciousness that he always switches on for these types of parts. A police detective and a reporter are onto him, and do theor best to infiltrate the facility, but his powers have already spread to the city outside, causing people to act strange and… well, a bunch of other weird shit. Danny Trejo has an amusingly hostile extended cameo as some vague operative working for Fibrian, and yada yada. It earns points for sheer WTF-ness though, it’s like every day on set they picked one crew member to add the craziest thing they could think of to the script and just ran with that (which would be a cool free association method of improvisational filmmaking, now that I think about it. They outdo themselves in a hilarious, out of left field cliffhanger ending that gets pretty cosmic and out there, adding a straight up supernatural element that cements the demented vibe they’ve strived for with the whole thing. A true oddball.
Picture a bleached out, acid washed dime-store version of Blade Runner on a shoestring, bargain budget and you’ll have some notion of Sci Fighters, a silly futuristic flick starring lovable wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and B Movie stock villain Billy Drago. By most standards it’s a miserable little exercise in schlock, but if that’s your thing to begin with, it’s a pearl. So it’s set in 2009, and the film was made in 96’, which going by a combination of the math and the severely bleak atmosphere, the filmmakers didn’t even stretch their timeline barely past twenty years from their date, showing either amusing carelessness in writing or even more amusing cynicism for where we’re headed, and how fast. The setting is Boston, and it’s a goddamn slum, with perpetually overcast skies, garbage heaps everywhere and a general sense that people have given up. Piper is Grayson, a hard boiled detective on the trail of a somewhat unusual killer. Far above earth in a filthy off-world prison on the moon, criminal Dunn (Drago) has encountered some weird alien parasite which hijacks his gaunt frame and torpedos back stateside to start a murder spree. Drago vs Piper in a sad-sack, disease ridden Boston is pretty much the suitable logline, and it’s not half bad. Piper makes a more grounded leading man than the film deserves, while Drago is straight up certifiable (nothing new) especially when the extraterrestrial, who has a garbled and endearing speech impediment, is controlling him. Effort is put into the atmosphere to some degree, but I feel like the success in achieving mood was probably also by accident of just leaving shit lying around set. A true peculiarity, worth it only for fans of the two actors and schlock-hounds alike.
Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift is curiously one of my favourite adaptations of his work. I say curiously because it’s not a very tasteful film, let alone even a good one. It’s simple schlock and awe, goo and slime for 90 minutes straight, every human character either an unsettling nutcase or cardboard stock archetype. There’s just something so Midnite Movie-esque about it though, a sense of fun to its gigantic, hollowed out mess of a textile mill in which some kind of vile denizen stalks a night crew that pretty much deserves everything they get. People wander about, squabble and are picked off in ways that get steadily more gruesome until the final reveal of the monster in some overblown puss-palooza of a finale. What more do you need in your bottom feeder helping of horror? Steven Macht is the sleazebag who runs the mill at his tyrannical whim, while David Andrews is the closest thing you’ll find to a stoic protagonist. Andrew ‘Wishmaster’ Divoff shows up as a stock character, but it’s Brad Dourif who chews scenery and ends up the only memorable person as the world’s most simultaneously intense and incompetent exterminator, a bug eyed little weirdo who freaks people out with extended monologues about Viet Nam when he should be perusing corridors to find whatever’s lurking there. The monster itself, if I remember correctly, is one big pile of grossly misshappen, poopy prosthetic puppetry, as is often the case in early 90’s King fare. Would you want it any other way? Simple, efficient and impressively gory is what you’ll find on this shift.